I love Scooby Doo!
Scooby Doo has been around for a long time and everybody knows what it is. Four teens and a dog go solve mysteries and discover that the haunted or supernatural evil was really just a human all long. It was a formula that worked, could be changed and adapted with ease, and completely repeatable till the end of time.
With its adaptive ease it had gone through multiple series before I even laid eyes on it. It went from the 60s classic, to the team up/ cameo show, to the gang as a group of children, to made for TV/home release films, to an updated series, and a couple mild films. They were all ranged from passable, to good or great, but none of them really dug into the potential beyond the characters. They were easy to love, but not easy to believe in.
For as much as I love Scooby-Doo this show finds ways to grow it and not spend the whole time earnestly ribbing it. Instead they set the series after the original run of episodes in the gangs hometown of Crystal Cove, dubbed “The Most Haunted Town.” They continue to work together and solve mysteries in their small town
With so many places to start I think the art design by Dan Krall sells the show through the whole experience. The idea to set this in an out of time, 60s/70s retro future aesthetic was genius. It allows the characters to dress in their memorable designs without needing to make any concessions for it. It also always the whole world to look distinct. They can have 8-tracks, records, CDs, and rotary cellphones all in the same show without it being hokey. It’s having your cookie cake and eating it to.
The designs also let the monsters be really terrifying, haunting, or interesting. It is able to balance gator people, witches, chimeras, a motorcycle driving Tory, a truly devilish freak, German robots, crab people, zombies, Lovecraft (Hatecraftian) abominations, and more to make them look cohesive and viable in the world they set up. They all have memorable designs, and gimmicks to change it up and bring that haunting atmosphere to this south western town of Crystal Cove.
Another part of the world and art that is a real win is just how dedicated the team was at making all parts of the Scooby-Doo and Hanna-Barbera universes combine into a cohesive place. Making places like Quest Laboratory and Johnny Quest an established part of the world as a former company that the villains of the show bought, along with a Yogi Bear cameo, and giving an origin for Batman stand-in Blue Falcon and Dynomut really shows how much the team loved all those properties and I could believe them having plans to adapt all of those properties.
One of the best episodes that exemplifies the love this group had for the old Hanna-Barbera series is Scooby’s fever dream “Mystery Solvers Club State Finals.” In that episode we see all the discount Scooby-Doo shows like Captain Caveman, Jabberjaw, Speed Buggy, and the Funky Phantom meet to solve a mystery, and eventually lead to all the side-kicks (mascots really) must solve the mystery for the episode. It would have been easy for them just to make easy jokes at how repetitive all those clones were. Instead the team tries to give those series justice by giving all the mascots a solid personality, show why they are part of the team, and give us viewers who watched those series on Boomerang some solid fan service. I also think this episode was the inspiration for the direction the final mystery would go in.
That’s right, I neglected to mention the biggest thing that set this show apart from all the other incarnations of Scooby-Doo (Except 13 Ghosts but that’s different). This series has an overarching mystery that builds up to a giant three part conclusion. The mystery, that starts with finding a spyglass locket with a picture in it and turns into a generational conspiracy about previous mystery solving groups, evil corporations, curses, an evil German bird, and ancient celestial entities. It’s a smoother transition than I made it sound, but it is jarring. The main piece this mystery serves is to mix up the standard Scooby-Doo Formula (something the whole show is about). The mystery gives each episode an additional subplot that gives all the characters something to be doing and working on, being proactive in one aspects, as they react to the crime of the episode.
The episodic crimes are also used to sneak a part of the mystery in as the conclusion. Maybe the villain is the least obvious suspect, or maybe it has something to do with Mr. E, the old Mystery Incorporated group, or lost treasure. It makes a first watch feel refreshing, and not just easy to check social media and wait for the reveal. It’s engaging. On subsequent watches it becomes tracking that setup and payoff while enjoying the character growth.
Wait, character growth… that happens? Yes, this show manages to not only define and imbue our normal mystery gang with personality. Fred goes from the stock leader to a trapping expert, who can participate in trap battles, he’s tactical, and dense, but earnest in his affection for Daphne and the gang. Daphne is strong willed, perceptive, wants to follow her own heart, and does really love Fred. Velma is still the genius. She’s well informed, dry, analytical, goes for just the facts, but also can show frustration to the situations she’s in. Shaggy and Scooby-Doo are pretty similar. They get more courageous by the end, but do have some brains, and would help their friends in need.
This show also does the hardest task of making believable characters to inhabit Crystal Cove. The sheriff of the town, Sheriff Bronson Stone, both mayors Fred’s dad (Fred Jones Sr), and Mayor Nettles from season two, the previous mystery incorporated gang, the radio dj Angel Dynamite, and random reoccurring towns people like the teenagers and teachers at the school, and restaurant owners all get some distinct personality that makes them engaging to see. The fact Angel Dynamite is right out of a Blacksploitation film with the funky talking and karate skills, to how thick headed Sheriff Bronson Stone is, or money driven and tourist focused Mayor Fred Sr, or how much Mayor Nettles is really a secret action heroine all drive how believably unbelievable this city is.
It helps that the voice cast is absolutely killer for all involved. You get mainstays like Frank Welker to be Fred and Scooby-Doo like usual. You add biggest star Grey Deslile to bring some added life to valley girl Daphne. You get the best part of the live action films, Matthew Lillard to come back and voice Shaggy even more is all great. Only, it doesn’t stop there.
Someone must have called in all their Hollywood favors for this show. You get Patrick Warburton to come in and be that blockhead sheriff and give him lots of life even as he’s being two dimensional. Then add on Gary Cole as Fred Sr to be paternal and unreasonable, Vivica A Fox to be Angel Dynamite because who else would you get? Add onto that Lewis Black, Udo Kier, Tim Matheson, and Tia Carrere to show range in their skills. Only, the best is Linda Cardellini to come back and become a rival for Velma. That is great because played Velma in the live action films, and brings that same voice and sass back to a character that is set up to be her rival and kinda-sorta love interest (it was 2010, we were not going to get a full lesbian relationship on a kids show).
This is not to say the show is perfect. A lot of character work comes from very tedious love and relationship arcs that are obvious and make the characters feel unreasonable. They also fully permeate the show so it is hard to get a grasp of what the standard for the group before the show started. The easy solution is that this is a sequel to everything, and some of that tracks. But then there are references to Scrappy-Doo and Vincent Van Ghoul from 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, and the ending leaving me with lots of questions. It wants to be a simple everything you know happened but not exactly that way so we can change it, but then never establish what is baseline and normal for this incarnation of the mystery incorporated gang.
The mysteries in Scooby-Doo were never really complex or complicated. It was always just the guy you least expect doing it for money or fame of some kind. This show continues that, but oftentimes cheats with the reveals. Too often a character will also just happen to have a background in chemical engineering, or robotics, or be a super spy, or super mechanic, or great public speaker that makes the mystery seem unfair. How is the audience supposed to guess who the criminal is when this key part of their background won’t come out till the end. It only bothers me because it is a pattern, but it does not kill the show.
Scooby-Doo has always been a mystery series, and always will be. This series specifically solves more than just the truth of Crystal Cove. It solves the mystery of how to make something as timeless as Scooby-Doo feel relevant, real, and dramatic about the hokiest teens of all time by giving them interests outside of the mystery, but not exclude it. It says that this group will always exists because something will always be unexplained. No matter how big the mystery it can be solved through hard work, inductive reasoning, and friendship.